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Melbourne has all the makings for an Australian eating adventure.
Truth be told, my own moments of indulgence began before I even touched down in Australia, thanks to the plentiful supply of Tim Tam chocolate cookies onboard my Qantas flight from San Francisco. And once we landed in Melbourne, tasting my way around town was the chosen plan of attack for jet lag.There’s no one standout dish to try when in Melbourne. With everything from Chinese and Japanese cuisine to Spanish tapas and Indian fare, the tempting options seem at times inexhaustible. However, the Progressive Degustation Tour from Hidden Secrets Tours fits three great restaurants into one fun night, making it easy to not only to get a taste of the city’s sizzling culinary scene, but also to meander around town. Over the course of the evening, guests visit three venues by foot, receiving three generous tapas-like tastings at each, in addition to a flight of wine or similar pouring.
The tour began at Federation Square, across from Flinders Street Station, in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD (central business district). Our first stop was at Taxi Kitchen, just steps away. Within minutes of sitting down, three glasses of wine appeared, and Fiona Sweetman, owner of Hidden Secrets Tours, provided background on the wine regions located in the Australian state of Victoria. Then, an individually plated selection of Taxi Kitchen’s favorite dishes arrived at our table. As I tasted the likes of crispy turnip cakes, sake-washed tuna and candied pork, I felt my willpower and the fight against overindulgence weaken.
“We look for venues that are not always on the top of a bucket list but are tried and true local favorites,” Sweetman said.
I like to think that I have a knack for exploring new cities, but I doubt I would have found Izakaya Den — another stop on our tour — on my own. Located in a basement off Russell Street, I have no doubt many folks walk by without realizing what’s hidden in plain view.
Our tasting menu here included sweet corn kakiage (Japanese tempura), salmon sashimi with crystal seaweed and yuzu vinaigrette, and Kurobata pork belly with Yakiniku sauce. Drink pairings included Orion Draft Beer, Uonuma Junmai sake and a local pinot noir.
Hidden Secrets Tours works with several Melbourne restaurants, allowing flexibility for guests with food allergies or dietary concerns. (Tour guides can accommodate most restrictions if they receive notice at least 24 hours in advance.)
The walk between each restaurant is no longer than 15 minutes (our third venue was Arlechin bar on Mornane Place), and Sweetman used the time to help us get to know the city, giving us the confidence to explore on our own. She also has a knack for pointing out colorful street art (including pieces by internationally known street artists such as Rone) that folks might otherwise miss.
“My favorite thing about this tour is that we get to share the city corners with people who don’t normally do tours, so they see the city in a different light,” Sweetman said. “Guests also get to try food pairings they often never would have thought of. It’s a simple thing, but it can bring such wonder to people’s experience.”
In addition to a map highlighting the tasty places visited during the Progressive Degustation Walk, Hidden Secrets Tours provides guests with a comprehensive list of some of its staff’s other favorite foodie spots, further ensuring travelers will eat well for all their days in Melbourne.The three-hour Progressive Degustation Tour runs Monday through Thursday and begins at 5 p.m.; there’s a maximum of eight people per tour. The price is approximately $140 per person and includes all food and beverages. The company offers several additional tour options, as well, including the Lanes & Arcades Tour, the Cafe Culture Tour and a Liquid Crafts Walk. The DetailsHidden Secrets Tourswww.hiddensecretstours.com